Art from function—Princes Pier

Princes Pier piles aucourantnow

For the first (almost) 100 years of their life, these piles performed their utilitarian function. Today, they form a work of art.

In their wisdom (and likely for pecuniary considerations) the state government at the time opted for a low-impact restoration of the derelict Princes Pier in Port Melbourne in 2006. The result is this evocative sculpture comprised of 380 metres of unrestored piles that were left in place, exposed in their raw beauty.

The redevelopment of Princes Pier

While nearby Station Pier has remained in operation, Princes Pier was closed in 1989.

The pier, built between 1912 and 1915, suffered neglect and vandalism following its closure. By 2006 there was virtually nothing left of the original buildings on the site. From the early 2000s, options for the development and use of the site were debated.

Early proposals submitted to the state government for the restoration and redevelopment of the pier included plans for apartments, restaurants and cafes.

In recognition of the heritage value of Princes Pier to Australia’s war effort (departing soldiers during the two world wars) and immigration (post-war migration arrivals), the state government decided on a low-impact redevelopment. Budget considerations may have also played a part—the cost of total restoration was estimated at $60m, while partial refurbishment could be achieved for $14m.

The final project allowed for the first 196 metres of piles to be repaired, the deck and the gatehouse to be restored, and the remaining 380 metres of the pier to be cleared to expose the piles. The final budgeted cost was $34m; the restoration was opened in December 2011.

Then and now

img677 As the daughter of a post-war migrant, I have fond memories of being packed up as a child to head to Princes or Station Pier to greet the latest arrivals from my father’s Italian village.

Today, whenever I pass by this site, I take time to stop and reflect upon the piles—the grace of their lines and the grandeur of their scale. And I remember my father.

Princes Pier piles aucourantnow (2)The pier in numbers:

  • It is the second largest timber structure in Australia (Station Pier is the largest).
  • The pier is 580 metres long, made up of 5000 piles.
  • The length of the piles ranges from seven metres at the shore to 21 metres at the end of the pier.


Princes Pier is located in Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
My father is the man on the left in the family photo

Major Projects Victoria – Princes Pier Restoration
Major Projects Victoria – Princes Pier Project Update September 2010 (pdf; 2 pages)
Interpretive signage at Princes Pier


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